In his column “Day Book” in the Washington Times-Herald Tris Coffin described Peter Marshall’s “The American Dream” as “one of the great documents of recent times.” Dr. Marshall got the idea for his sermon from Norman Corwin’s war-time radio program, We Hold These Truths. It is reprinted here by permission of the McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., publishers of Catherine Marshall’s A Man Called Peter.

During the Second World War, I met on the train a lieutenant who had just returned from fighting in Italy.

He had been in the North African campaign.

He had fought in Sicily.

He wore the Purple Heart ribbon with his campaign ribbons.

I asked him what he thought of America.

It was a hard question to ask a man who had been gone so long,

who had been fighting for his country …

who had been wounded in action …

It was almost an impertinence.

He said that after what he had seen in North Africa and in Italy, he appreciated America more than ever.

He described the filth and the squalor of the cities he had seen …

He spoke of Tunis and Bizerte …

He told me of his impression of the Arabs and the natives of North Africa.

He had been deeply impressed with their misery and their slums.

I asked him some rhetorical questions, not expecting answers but rather to make him think, and to divert his attention from the bottle of rum in his raincoat pocket which, he had told me, he intended to finish between Roanoke and Washington.

“What is America?” I asked.

“What were you fighting for?

Did anyone in North Africa ever ask you that question? If they had, what would you have said?”

I venture to say that deep down in the hearts of the men who fought the bitterest battles—of them who died—there was a glimmering of an understanding that ...

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